Digitalization in Germany — Is There Still Hope?

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Digitalization in Germany has become a trend. The coalition contract of the newly formed German government has a whole chapter on the topic, and digitalization was mentioned in every speaker headline at “Digitaler Staat 2018”. A two-day conference, which some call the public sector’s CeBIT, I attended earlier this month. Now that everyone is talking about the topic let’s do a quick reality check of Germany’s happened.

Access to fast internet should become a basic right, and the government wants to create a “digital infrastructure of world-class.” However, the reality looks dull. With an average of 14 MBit/s, we are in place 15 compared to other European countries, far behind, e.g., Romania or the Czech Republic. The new government plans to invest €10 billion over the upcoming years, covering only 1/8 of the expected cost of expanding the network. Private companies are also not incentivized to invest large sums in the network, as legislation is unclear and investments bear an extremely high risk. One of the foundations for digitalization, reliable access to fast internet, is still one of the major construction areas here in Germany.


E-Government is another important topic when talking about digitalization in Germany. Dorothee Bär, newly appointed German state minister of digitalization (not to confuse with a federal minister), wants to simplify bureaucratic procedures and give citizens the chance to conduct simple administrative tasks, e.g., changing their residence place online. However, taking a closer look at the public institutions’ workflows, one can clearly see the massive digitalization potential. For example, for changing the residence, one has first to download a PDF from the homepage, fill it out by hand, bring it to the counter, where an official digitalizes the filled-out form, typing it by hand, wasting countless hours per day.

Looking back at previous attempts of eGov, we can clearly say that the German government did not cover itself with glory. The digital identity card is only one of the eGov disasters. Since it was issued in 2010, only one-third have activated the function, and even less, approx. 2.5 million have used the function. The digital patient card or the debate about public Wifi are other examples. Looking back at our visit to the “Digitaler Staat,” we saw many start-ups really driving to achieve Dorothee Bärs’ vision of a functioning eGov. However, there are still many barriers, from the legislation side and how digitalization is being thought internally.

photo Digitalization in Germany — Is There Still Hope?
Thaddäus and Felix at Digitaler Staat 2018

What is the message that should be conveyed?

We cannot rely on the government or others to drive digitalization: We have to be the drivers and take matters into our own hands. The digitalization ministry can provide the framework, but as founders and revolutionary thinkers inside a large corporate, advisors must be active and aware. Our responsibility is to take matters into our own hands and always keep in mind that digital assets need to be secured by state-of-the-art methods.